2.28.2010

We Can Bring Our Cat

Jeff emailed the property management guy and asked him if they would consider making an exception to the No Pets rule for our two and a half year old spayed kitty. Property management guy asked the owner of the building and Zeus has been approved.  

The Story of Zeus

We adopted Zeus in October of 2007. 

He was pretty cute.  Jennifer, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer a couple hours down the Inter-American Highway in Torti, had asked her community to look for an orange cat for her and she gotten Felix the year before.  Then a neighbor brought her this tiny two week old orange kitten.  She told her neighbor she already had a cat and this one was too small and should stay with its mother.  Her neighbor explained the momma cat and the other kittens were eaten by dogs.  This little guy survived.  
Jennifer took in the orange kitten and force fed him milk with cat food mashed in and he made it.

Unfortunately Felix was not pleased to share his life with the new kitten. Jennifer started looking for a new home for him. That's where we came along. We were still living with Ramiro and his family when we took the now five week old kitten. We decided to call him Zeus.  

He's a jungle kitty, a hunter.  We fed him cat food, but I'd say a good half of his diet was made up of small animals.  He loves lizards.  One colder morning he brought in this:
This lizard was longer tip to tail than he was.  The only reason were able to rescue it from him, was he could barely drag it.  One time a horse wandered into our yard and I caught Zeus stalking the horse and the horse had noticed and was skiddish. 

We'd generally let him eat the bugs, but if we caught him with bigger animals we'd try and save them.  When we got the solar light it attracted these large beetles and Zeus loved it.  He would eat them up like popcorn.  In the morning there would be lots of little insect legs on the ground around the lamp.

Then we got to the end of our two years and three months in Panama; time to go home. Should we take Zeus? He's definitely a Panamanian cat. Our house had a gap up along the roof line that was big enough for him to get in and out. He went out and hunted every night. He was not a house cat.    

If we'd had a good person to take him in we might have considered leaving him. However, our community considered cats to be working animals and not really pets. They wouldn't have fed him cat food. They might have given him some rice with oil on it occasionally, but he would have been left to find his own food for the most part.

Also there wasn't much of an emotional connection to cats. If someone was having a mouse problem, well you could just give them your cat. Or if a cat was causing problems, you could just give him away. The average cat only lives a couple of years. Our two year old cat was already at the end of his life span according to the neighbors. Plus he ate a neighbor's parakeet and had fought the neighbor's cat so he didn't have a lot of good will. 

So we looked into how to bring a cat to The States. He had to have the rabies vaccine, get a certificate of health from a veterinarian and we had to pay some fees and stand in line for the better part of two days to get him approved for travel. Then we bought him a plane ticket to bring him home with us.  

It was a pretty traumatic experience taking him on his first chiva/bus/taxi/airplane ride all in a couple of days. I'll spare you the gritty details, but it involved yowling, thrashing and vomiting.  

The jungle kitty came home with us. Zeus's been living at my parents' house while Jeff and I have been living with his mom. The first weeks were rough. My mom and dad both had bite marks and scratches. Zeus seems to have settled some. He'll even sit with my mom in the evenings. Maggie, the dog, and Zeus seem to have struck some kind of truce.

Zeus has replaced hunting with chasing marbles and shredding cardboard. I've never seen another cat do this. He sits inside the box and bites little pieces of cardboard off. He doesn't eat them, just leaves them strewn around the disappearing boxes. Luckily he doesn't seem interested in shredding furniture or climbing curtains.

Now I guess we'll find out how he adjusts to moving to Valparaiso, Indiana.  We'll have plenty of cardboard boxes to keep him busy.   

2.24.2010

How to Juice a Lime with a Fork - Cooking Tips


If you are just using the juice of one orange, lemon or lime you don't need to buy a juicer to squeeze all the juice out quickly and effectively.  Simply use a fork. 

Cut the lime in half and pierce the center with the tines of the fork.  Squeeze the lime and wiggle the fork around to release the juice.  Repeat with the other half of the lime. 

Using the fork and squeezing is much more effective than squeezing alone.  I wish I had known this technique when I lived in Panama and cooked with sour oranges every day!

2.23.2010

Gene Bauer - Botanical Artist

Daffodil (Narcissus 'Hawera') (Courtesy of ESRI va the LA Times)

"I like nature, and I like beautiful things." Gene Bauer

Every once in a while I stumble across people doing incredible things. They have a mission and dedication that takes them past the simple daily activities of life. Gene Bauer is one of those people. She shared her love of native California plants by serving as the native flora chairwoman of California Garden Clubs Inc in the 70's.
Right: Desert mariposa (Calochortus kennedyi)
Left: Sweet orange tree (Citrus sinensis) (Courtesy ESRI via the LA Times )

Each month she created a short booklet about one native plant, including a map of its location in California, an essay about the plant and hand screened a print. These booklets went out to the 26 clubs to educate their members about their native flora. As much as she is a botanist she is also an artist. Each booklet was numbered, dated and signed.
Gene Bauer with her work. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

What impresses me is she had a clear vision and consistently produced more than 50 of these beautiful booklets between 1972-78. By combining art and botany she had more impact than simply art or botany alone.

These prints are now available in her new book, Botanical Serigraphs: The Gene Bauer Collection.

Part of the reason her work appeals to me is her ability to condense information into a form people use and appreciate. It is something I try to do on a much smaller scale on this blog. She reminds me to think bigger and that combining two loves, like art and botany, can be very potent.

To see more about Gene Bauer and her prints visit:

Elizabeth Licata's article "A Gardener's Art Project" on GardenRant.com

Deborah Netburn's article "‘Botanical Serigraphs: The Gene Bauer Collection’ illustrates native California plants" from the LA Times

LA Time's Online Gallery "The art of Gene Bauer"

2.22.2010

Kumquat Cranberry Scones - Recipe



Here's another way to enjoy fresh kumquats. I paired them with some cranberries I froze after Thanksgiving. This is a delicious brunch or snack recipe. It's about the same work as making muffins, but it looks a little more sophisticated.

Kumquat Cranberry Scones
1/2 cup cranberries, chopped (can be fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup kumquats, chopped (about 8 fruits)
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

1 egg white mixed with 1/2 tablespoon water for glaze (optional)
Step 1:  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly butter a 10 inch diameter circle in the center of the baking sheet.  Get your eggs out so they can come up to room temperature. 

Step 2:  In a small bowl, stir together the cranberries, kumquat, and honey.

Step 3:  In a food processor measure out the flour, brown sugar, salt and baking soda.  Give it a quick 4 pulses or so to mix everything together.  Then chopped the chilled butter into 1/2 inch cubes and add it to the food processor.  Pulse the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles coarse crumbs.  It should take less than 20 seconds with the food processor.  You could also do this step by hand by cutting the butter into the flour mixture with a knife or pastry cutter. 

Step 4:  Put the flour and butter mixture into a large bowl and make a well in the middle.  Then stir into the cranberries and kumquats the eggs and vanilla.

Step 5:  Dump the cranberry kumquat mixture and the pecans into the well made in the flour mixture.  Use a wooden spoon to mix everything together.  Mix just until everything is moist; there will still be large chunks.  With lightly floured hands pat the dough into a 9 inch circle on the prepared baking sheet. 

Step 6:  Brush the egg white mixture over the top and sides of dough if desired.  With a serrated knife, cut the circle of dough into 8 wedges.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a light golden brown.  Remove the scones from the baking sheet and let them cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Makes 8 Scones

2.20.2010

How to Eat and Prepare Kumquats


Kumquats are beautiful little jewels of the citrus family.  I came across a basketful of these guys in my local co-op,  $7.79 a pound for organic Florida kumquats.  A steep price but a handful goes a long way.  We enjoyed them sliced into a green salad with lemon poppy seed dressing. 

Kumquats take me back to working in Savannah for a locally owned garden center.  We sold kumquats trees.  They always sold better with fruit on them.  So I made a rule that I could eat one kumquat a day until the little trees each had ten fruit, then I had to stop.  I would wait until all the watering was done and the Georgia sun was strong before picking my one kumquat and enjoying it with a glass of iced tea.  Not sweet tea mind you, I never could drink the stuff.  Maybe if I'd lived down south for more than a year. 

How to Eat a Kumquat: 
Mary Ann, the manager of the garden center in Savannah, showed me how to eat the kumquat fruit.  First roll the fruit back and forth between your fingers with enough force to squeeze the fruit.  This releases the oil in the skin, and it will look shiny.  The oil has a sweet citrus smell and taste.  If the kumquat isn't rolled the peal tastes bitter.

Then just bite into the fruit skin and all.   The inside is juicy like a tangerine and the skin is tender enough to eat.

When serving the kumquat as a garnish or in a salad it is often sliced into rings.  Be sure to roll the fruit before cutting.

If you are lucky enough to have access to lots of kumquats or have the good fortune of a whole tree, there are many sweet and savory ways to enjoy your fruits:

2.19.2010

Help Us Arrange the Apartment

Here's the layout, as best as I can remember.  So the question is how do we use the space.  The living area is the big question mark.  It needs to have two desks, a lounging area that can be converted for guests and a dinner table and chairs.  It a big space, but between all the windows and doors it's going to be tough to keep a good flow, not block the windows and still have function.  One of the desks may yet be in the bedroom. 

Which Apartment Did We Choose? Modern or Victorian?

We went for the Victorian apartment. In the end the charm, lower cost and location beat out the big closets and convinces of the Modern apartment. It would have been nice to have the extra space and the balcony (which yes Miranda did have a nice view into some trees and beyond that single family back yards.) We can always upgrade later. For right now, until we figure out how our budget will work, living in the funky down town Victorian will be fun and just right for us.  

I think the place is bigger than I realize, it was just so covered in college boy debris it was hard to tell.  When we met the property managers I got a, responsible, good feeling from them.  I asked them about the clean up and they said it will be spotless when we move in and I believe them. 

I can't wait to have my own kitchen again!  I'm so excited to have a gas stove!  It'll be a small space for canning and cooking but it is all mine...and Jeff's.   The windows will be awesome lighting for food photography.  Maybe with the money we are saving I can buy a new camera?  I've been pining for a good SLR with a wide angle lens for a while now, maybe not new, but a gently used Canon Rebel. A girl can dream right?

We'll bring several large trunks, a hall tree, dressers and shelving units so we have somewhere to put stuff.  There's only one closet in the whole space and I'm pretty sure I could fill the whole thing with just my clothes.  I'm always amazed how much stuff I acquire.  

It's going to be a challenge figuring out how to arrange furniture.  I wish we had an oval table for the bay window.  I think that would be the best use of the space.   It's right next to the kitchen so it could double as extra counter space.  I'll keep my eye on http://www.craigslist.com/.   Or do any of you guys have suggestions for how to use the bay window?

Then there is the matter of fitting two desk spaces, plus a sitting area into the main room.  Jeff doesn't want the computers in the bedroom, which makes sense.  The bedroom is large, so we'll probably use some of the space for storage.  I think we'll just have to wait until all our stuff is there to decide how to arrange things.  We are going to want to get a sleeper sofa or daybed or some sort of seating thing that converts to guest bed type of deal.  I hope we get lots of guests! I love hosting. Our place is small, but we'll make it work. 

One of our goals is to get ALL of our stuff out of our parents' houses.  They were kind enough to let us store all our earthy possessions in their basements while we were in Peace Corps.  We'll take everything and if we don't want it or use it, we'll sell it or give it away.  There is no reason to store things we aren't using and I know my mom would love to unearth the guest bedroom.  I'm sure there is stuff I don't even realize we own tucked into corners and hidden in closets. 

This is also the perfect opportunity to get rid of plastics. We have a couple plastic drawer sets from the college days and quite a bit of cheap Tupperware. Now is the time; I'm going to get rid of the plastic.

I'd love to have more of the old fashion Pyrex refrigerator dishes. Not only are they really cute and fun to use but there's no worries about BPA toxins and they can go in the microwave and oven no problem.  

If  have my druthers all the furniture will be hardwood, nice heavy oak or maple; the type of furniture that lasts and doesn't fall apart and then gets thrown out. 

That is one of the good things about a smaller space, we can't hoard things.  I think this is my new motto for this move:

Keep the Best and Get Rid of the Rest. 

It has a nice ring, no?

2.18.2010

Which Apartment Would You Choose?

Which apartment should we choose?

The huge modern apartment with the balcony, fireplace and large kitchen and bathroom that costs $200 more a month or….

…the decent sized upper floor of a downtown Victorian house with wood floors, high ceilings, bay window and recently remodeled but small kitchen and bathroom.

We’ve been mulling over this decision. The big modern apartment was built in the 90’s and has new flooring and some new fixtures. It has a great kitchen and was the only apartment we saw with an outdoor area. There is a great big balcony, where we could fit a good sized table and chairs. It would be a perfect place to entertain and have a BBQ. The apartment also comes with its own washer and dryer and a ton of closets. There are one and a half bathrooms. The master bath has a whirl pool tub and a big shower, plus a huge vanity. It also has a gas fireplace with marble built in shelves around it. And they let the tenants paint. The kitchen is currently light yellow and the bedroom is mostly cream with a soft brown accent wall, actually attractive colors that go with the existing wood and flooring which by the way is just carpet and linoleum. It would be nice to live in a place that’s not all white like a typical apartment. The unit has 1000 square feet and is on the higher end of what we would consider paying for rent. This one is located in a quieter part of town. Not really near anything.

The Victorian has a lot of charm, the kitchen is small, but has good cabinets. The stove is gas. There is ceramic tile in the bathroom and kitchen and hardwood in the living and bedroom. We would get lots of great light from the large windows and the big bay window in the main room. There is only one closet and although it is billed as a “walk in” it’s more of a deep, but normal closet. Square footage-wise it is about 800 square feet. We’d have access to a washer and dryer in the basement of the house next door. There is no balcony or backyard to speak of, no place to put our grill or eat outside. The apartment was a wreck when we saw it. It looked like several frat boys lived there. Two blow-up mattresses on the floor in the bedroom, a pool table and beer pong table in the living room, pizza boxes, and clothing everywhere. A big flat screen with an old sofa parked in front of it. I had to remind myself to just look at the structure. The big plus for this one is the location. It’s part of the downtown area and when the weather is warmer we would be walking distance from the restaurants and farmer’s market. It is also very close to Valparaiso University. And cost wise it is the second to least expensive of the seven apartments we saw. We’d have a little extra money a month to squirrel away or for traveling or just in case.

So which would you pick?

2.16.2010

Packing Up

I drug all the boxes out of the basement.  Most of my clothing has been in storage.  I am rediscovering all sorts of good stuff.  Most of the boxes and been riffled through at some point to find my black closed toe heals or my long sleeve yoga shirt or some other thing I wanted.  So the boxes needed to be reorganized.  At one point I had all the clothes out in piles all over the floor.  Now they are all back in boxes and stuffed to the brim.  How do I have this many clothes?  In Panama I could have fit my entire wardrobe in my backpack.  Granted there was only one season and it was hot.  Not having any bulky clothes makes a difference.  I'm pretty sure I have at least another box or two of clothing at my mom's house.  And I know I have another three or four coats. 

Coats are one of my weaknesses.  I love them.  I have a gray wool, a red wool, a brown pho fur, a trench, a long dress khaki, black pea coat, short horehound, and a blue Columbia coat for work and play.  They are bulky, but they are such a big part of my outfits in the winter.  I don't feel right when my coat doesn't go with the look.  The irony is my husband has one coat.  I should at least find him a dress coat.  Poor guy. 

I still need to pick up some more boxes from the flower shop.  These C99 8" Rose Vase boxes are awesome.  They are heavy duty for shipping glass and they are all the same size.  All the same size boxes makes it so much easier to pack up for travel.  Plus these boxes are just right.  It's hard to pack them so full I can't lift them.  There are a couple boxes of books and paperwork that I really have to heft to carry, but I can manage. 

I have a couple more drawers of things that I need to pack up, but for the most part this shouldn't be a huge moving ordeal because almost everything we own is still in boxes.  This is good, time is short.  Only twelve days to my first day of work. 

2.15.2010

Apartment Hunting

Here we go.  I've been looking online for apartments for rent in Valparaiso.  This is the first time I've really gone apartment hunting.  Jeff has done it for us and the other times I subletted or rented with a friend without ever having seen the place.  This time I know we'll be here for a while so I want to find a good place.
I have a list of priorities. First and foremost we must live close to where I'll be working. When I drove around a bit after my interview I thought the downtown area was very cute. It's near where Valpo University is and it has a lot of charm. The library and farmers' market are both on the main street which in this case is called Lincolnway. As in part of old highway 30, which runs across the Midwest and comes right through Ames, Iowa where I am currently living. So I'd like to find an apartment down town or between down town and the arboretum which is south and west a couple miles. We'd also like to keep the cost under $700. We are willing to go a little higher if the utilities are included.
Our Apartment must be:
  • Within 15 miles of the garden, near downtown or between downtown and the gardens
  • Under $800 a month once the utilities are included
Our Apartment would be nice if it had
  • Hard wood floors
  • High ceilings
  • Charm - built ins, arches, or other fun architectural features
  • Bathtub
  • Big kitchen with gas stove
  • Washer and dryer in unit
  • Yard or balcony
  • Lots of windows with good sunlight
  • Allow a cat - my mom really likes our cat, Zeus, and we may let her keep him if we can't find a place that allows him.  He's finally getting settled and he actually sits with her and lies on her lap.  He never did that for me. 
I spent a bunch of time emailing around and calling to set up appointments. 
And here are the front runners:

Apartment A on Jefferson Street
  • Apartment building
  • $775 with all utilities included
  • 2 bedroom
  • 7.9 miles from garden - between downtown and gardens
  • Large kitchen
  • No hardwood
  • Allows cats 
  • Laundry Room (I'm not sure if it is shared or in unit)
Apartment B on Michigan
  • $590 only part of utilities included
  • 1 bedroom
  • You can see the library from the window, two block north of downtown, It's only 8.4 miles from the garden
  • Old divided Victorian has bay window and cool architecture
  • Nice medium sized kitchen with gas stove recently redone
  • High ceilings and wood floors
  • Recently redone bathroom with wood floors
  • Washer and Dryer in basement, shared
  • Big bedroom with walk in closet
  • No cat allowed
  • We won't be able to move in until the 3rd of March so we'll have to work that out somehow.

 Apartment C on Firestone
  • $695 plus utilities
  • 9.5 miles from garden, east of down town
  • Apartment complex
  • Cat allowed cost extra $250 deposit and $25 extra a month
  • Fireplace and whirlpool tub
  • Decent kitchen
  • Lots of space
Apartment D on Sturdy
  • $689 everything is included except internet
  • 9.5 miles from the garden, east of down town
  • 2 bedroom
  • Spacious
  • Part of a Complex
Right now I'm leaning towards the Victorian house on Michigan Street.  It's a good price and the location is excellent plus it is pretty.  We have appointments to see some of these this week.  So I'll get some good pictures so I can share what these places look like.

2.14.2010

I Am No Longer Unemployed!

So you may have wondered where I was last week. I have been helping out at a Flower Shop for Valentine's Day and I also took a little road trip to interview for a job.

Of all the many jobs I have applied for there were two I was really excited about. The first was for Seed Savers Exchange and although I went out and interviewed I was not offered the job. Then this one at Taltree Gardens and Arboretum came along and right away I started to invest. I envisioned living there and walking through the gardens and seeing the spring ephemerals in the woodland trails. Oh boy I was in trouble. I know better than to invest in a job that hasn't even been offered. So I kept my thoughts to myself and tried not to start thinking about the combinations of annuals that I would choose to soften and frame the pavilion.


On Thursday February 11th I got a call offering me the position of Horticulturalist at Taltree Gardens and Arboretum. I didn't hesitate. I accepted. I will be one of three full time horticulturists for this very young garden. They are an estate property, about 300 acres, that focuses on native landscapes. They have a prairie, woodland and swamp with lots of hiking trails.

More recently Taltree has put in a rose garden and a collection of oak trees from around the world. They also have a large open air pavilion that is rented out for events. It sits on the edge of a pond surround by native plants. Last year Taltree broke ground on a 2.5 acre miniature train garden. The building has been put in, and the hardscape started. This spring instillation of the plant material will start.

My job will be to manage the entrance garden, pavilion garden and the train garden. I'm excited. When I visited for my interview it was snowy and hard to see all of what was in the garden. But I can tell it has good structure and they are actively working and expanding.



One of the reasons I'm particularly excited about this garden because is it is small and growing. There is a lot of opportunity to learn. I will be able to have many rolls. I can work in the garden, and do some designing and manage seasonal staff and volunteers. There will be opportunities to teach and work with other industry professions. It will probably be a very busy job with high intensity, but I'm ready for it.

This is my first "real job". The first time I get a salary and benefits and the first time I get to officially have the title of Horticulturalist. I'm tickled. I'm thrilled!

The garden is located in the country just outside of Valparaiso, Indiana. It's part of the Chicagoland area. It walks the line of country and city. The gardens are actually nestled in corn fields and the estate is protected by windbreaks. But go north and west for 15-20 minutes and you’re in downtown Valparaiso, population 28,000. Valparaiso has the Lutheran Valparaiso University (4,000 students). I have always loved living in college towns they have a lot of life and usually good restaurants (although I haven't checked it out yet).

It's going to be a quick transition. I start on Monday the first of March. So we have just over two weeks to apartment hunt and move. Jeff is still teaching glass blowing and drawings and his sessions don't end until mid March. So it looks like I'll move out first and Jeff will come once he gets things finished up.

And as for my blog, I'll continue to post and put up recipes, just perhaps not every day.  And I will now have more to talk about on the gardening side.  You may be subjected to apartment hunting, moving and posts about all the changes this job will cause in my life.  It should be fun!  Horray!

All the photos of Taltree Arboretum and Gardens are from their website.

2.12.2010

Valentine's Day - Support your Local Florist

Flower arrangements chill in a walk in cooler awaiting delivery on Valentine's Day. (I had to use a flash, sorry for the not so beautiful photo.)

This week I am helping out at the florist I worked for during college: Mary Kay's Flowers and Gifts. It's a family run business. For a while when I was working there I thought I wanted to be a florist. Then I worked for another flower shop and realized I don't love being a florist, I love working for this shop. They are an excellent family, three generations of women, with a warm sense of humor and they care about their customers and sending out beautiful flowers. They always encouraged my creativity and challenged me to learn and grow. Since Jeff and I are staying in town as we look for jobs, I'm happy to lend a hand. I know Mary Kay's Flowers and Gifts will appreciate it. If only I could get a salary and bennifits as a florist. 

Any floral shop goes into over drive for V-Day. Mother's Day is technically a bigger holiday - more flowers are sold, but it's more of a weeklong event. Valentine's Day is a big one-day deal.  Although this year it falls on a Sunday and all those people who like to get their flowers at work so they can make their co-workers jealous, have to get their flowers on Friday. So it's not quite as intense as normal.

It turns out Winter Formal for the local high school is this Saturday too. The school doesn't want to encourage romance so they put the dance the day before Valentine's Day. Um yeah.

Today I made lots of little sweetheart rose wrist corsages and some boutonnieres. Then I helped finish up the last of the day's vase work and did a late afternoon delivery run. Yesterday and today were ten hour days; not too bad. I remember working until midnight my first Valentine’s Day. I left in tears of exhaustion after more than fourteen hours of answering phones and waiting on customers.  (I started out as a lowly sales girl and worked my way up to the thorn ravaged fingers of a florist over the three years I worked there.)  I'd much rather design the flowers than answer the phone!

Tomorrow, February 13th, will be a big day for the last minute orders and people picking up flowers. So if you haven't got your love a little something for V-Day, you're not too late to stop by your local florist and pick up some cut flowers, forced bulbs or a house plant. Support your local family owned florist!

2.10.2010

Kitchen Sink Soup - An Extemporaneous Recipe

In an effort to use up the vegetables in the fridge I decided to make soup.  It turned out better than expected.  Nice and creamy - thanks to the immersion blender - and the wild rice and barely made it filling. 

I'm calling this Kitchen Sink Soup.  It's an adlibbed recipe, but here are the basics.  You need a good broth or stock, a starch like pasta, rice, beans, barley or couscous, then some veggies and seasonings.  Boil for a while, blend a little and stir.  Here's what went into my version:
  • Carrot, diced
  • Butternut squash, cubed (which completely disintegrated making the broth richer)
  • Mushrooms, sliced
  • Kale, chopped
  • Wild rice
  • Barley
  • Red pepper, chopped

For broth I used chicken stock and for seasonings I used bay, thyme, tarragon and marjoram. 
 
Have you ever made a delicious unplanned soup?  What did you put in it?

2.09.2010

Roasted Chickpeas - Healthy High Fiber Snack Recipe

Roasted Chickpeas - Healthy High Fiber Snack Recipe

Roasted Chickpeas are crunchy little bites that remind me of wasabi peas with more substance. They have more fiber and protein than wasabi peas and they are baked as opposed to fried. They make an excellent afternoon snack.

I've finally given in to the roasted chickpea craze.  They are everywhere; on all the foodie compellation sites like Foodgawker and Photograzing.  However not all the directions are the same.  The temperature for roasting ranges from 360-450 F.  The time also varies from 20-60 minutes.  Plus there are as many seasoning options as there are recipes.

After browsing through all the online roasted chickpea recipes I could find (I literally have 10 tabs open and that's not all of them) I have decided on a plan of action. I will roast the chick peas at 300 degrees for an hour to dry them out and then roast them for an additional 30 minutes at 400 degrees to make them crispy. I am worried they will turn out too chewy in the middle if they aren't dried out first. I have not seen a recipe use this approach, but I know if I use a high heat for a short time to roast pumpkin seeds they would be chewy in the middle and that's not what I am after. I want crunchy garbanzo beans!

Just out of curiosity I compiled all the roasting temperatures and times on all those other recipes. Here's what I got:

350F for 40-50 minutes
360F for 40-50 minutes
400F for 30-40 minutes
400F for 30 minutes
400F for 25-30 minutes
400F for 30 minutes
425F for 30 minutes
450F for 30-40 minutes
Roasted Chickpeas - Healthy High Fiber Snack Recipe

And here are the seasoning recommendations:
  • Soy sauce and toasted sesame seed oil
  • Garlic and onion powder plus piri piri
  • Cumin powder, paprika, fennel seeds powder, sesame seeds and sea salt to taste
  • Rosemary, brown sugar and cayenne
  • Garlic powder, salt, cayenne
  • Granulated garlic, salt and pepper
  • Smoked paprika and garlic salt
  • Curry powder and sea salt
  • Smoked paprika and kosher salt
So you can make these up however you want.  I chose garlic powder and cumin with a dash of cayenne.  One of the recipes recommended salting after baking to get a more even roasting.  I assume this is because the salt will pull the water from the outer layer of the pea, leaving the inside unequally moist.  I want the heat to be the only thing driving water out.  So I'm holding off salt until the chickpeas have cooled. 

Roasted Chickpeas with Garlic, Cumin and Cayenne

4 cups of cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne hot pepper powder

Step 1:  Rinse and drain the chickpeas.  You want them as dry as possible.  Then spread them out on a cookie sheet (you want a cook sheet with sides) and drizzle the olive oil over the top.  Toss to coat.  Then sprinkle the seasonings on top. 

Step 2:  Bake the chickpeas at 300 degrees for 60 minutes.  Stir them around ever 15-25 minutes. 

Step 3:  Up the temperature to 400 degrees and continue baking for an additional 30 minutes until the chickpeas turn a nice golden color.  With the higher temperature you'll have to mix them more often, about every 10 minutes.  The chickpeas will get crisper as they cool so don't worry if they aren't completely crunchy when the time is up. 

Step 4:  Remove the chickpeas from the oven and allow them to cool.  Then sprinkle with kosher salt and they are ready to serve or stored in an airtight container.  They make a great snack or used as a garnish.
Roasted Chickpeas - Healthy High Fiber Snack Recipe

The Cost of Good Food in Schools

In Panama it is mandatory that all rural schools have either a vegetable garden or a chicken project.  These projects are used to teach children about agriculture and to grow food for the school lunches.  Lunches are prepared by a rotating schedule of mothers who come once a week and prepare and cook the food.  Above you can see a special lunch of Arroz con Pollo and Ensalada de Papas (chicken fried rice and potato salad). 

This might be one area where Panama is ahead of the US.  Compare this to the average American school lunch and garden program. The garden programs are usually afterschool extra circular activities, if they exist at all and the school lunch programs are run federally.  The incentives are to use cheap, premade food with limited cooking and staff to keep costs down. 

There are some new initiatives to create healthy school lunches.  Kath at Kath Eats Real Food is doing an internship with the Child Nutrition Program that brings fresh food to school lunches, but these programs are far and few between.
In Panama the school garden, chicken projects and lunch fall under the duties of the Padres de Familia, basically the Parent Teachers Association (PTA). All parents must participate. This system is successful because the parents are directly involved. Moms generally make lunch and dad and older kids help maintain the school grounds and garden. It's a level of involvement that isn't seen in America. Culturally we place more importance on using our time to earn money than to work directly with our kids and their school. Money can buy our kids a good education, pay for their sports equipment, make sure they have a house and cars to shuttle them around.
I had never questioned this system.  Money makes the world go around.  Then I lived seven kilometers off the paved road in rural Panama and saw different.  I no longer equate my time to money.  It's so easy to do.  I know the thought process, "My job pays $25 dollars an hour so it makes sense to work for one hour and use the money to buy a school lunch than it does to take two hours to do it myself".  This creates a disconnect; or at least a couple steps between parents, schools and school lunch.  It is easy for corners to be cut and poor quality and unhealthy food to be served because the investors (parents) are not directly involved. 

The picture at left is from Aim High website and their article on School Lunch Programs. I believe for food to be at its healthiest, create the least amount of packaging waste and go through the least processing it should be made on site from local ingredients.   Aim High points out most school lunches are "like airline meals, today’s school lunches of mystery meat and frozen vegetables are shipped to schools in single-serving containers and reheated in the “prep area” [they don't have a kitchen]."

The schools that are now working to integrate nutrition programs and gardens on the school grounds are finding it very difficult. They don't have the support of the parents or the school system.  In most cases it is a couple dedicated volunteers trying to find the funding and labor to plant, maintain and harvest the garden.  I can see a couple solutions to this problem.  If parents would invest their own time into the school they would be more aware and the problems would be visible and actively address.  Or as The Slow Cook's Behind the White House Photo Ops, School Gardens Desperate for Help article by Sarah Bernardi recommends creating a fulltime garden coordinator position.  Either way our schools' food and garden programs need more attention.

2.08.2010

Cranberry Wheat-Oatmeal Muffins - Perhaps too Healthy

 
I used the old trick of typing the ingredients I wanted in my recipe into Google to find a recipe that used oats and cranberries in a muffin.  I came up with this recipe:  Whole Wheat Oatmeal-Cranberry Muffins.  I made them and I'm not that impressed.  I did switch the dry cranberries for chopped frozen, but other than that I followed it exactly.  (I chose the option of using a whole egg over two egg whites.  I hate wasting part of the egg.)

I had to make the applesauce because I didn't have any.  Well, I really just pureed and apple, but that got the food processor dirty. Then I had to melt the butter, soak the oats, and dirty two more bowls for the dry and wet ingredients.  This is a bowl and cooking utensil intensive recipe.  The sink is full of dirty dishes. 

The muffins rose very little.  The batter was too wet and the muffins absorbed the oil I greased the pan with and stuck to the sides.   The cranberries are tart and the base is very wheaty, which is to be expected from an uber healthy recipe like this one.  The texture is dense. As the muffins are cooling they are just getting heavier.  I was careful not to over mix as commenters suggested this could cause heaviness.  I think it is just the recipe.  It uses all wheat flour and oats.  In this case healthy got in the way of good flavor and texture. 

I wonder if this batter could be used for drop cookies?  I bet there is a great whole wheat, oats and cranberry cookie recipe out there somewhere.  And I bet it looks like that recipe, but with more sugar. 

I will chalk this one up to a learning experience.  I still have another cup of chopped frozen cranberries to experiment with.  These are the last of the ones I froze after Thanksgiving. 

2.04.2010

New Recipes Coming Soon

I've got some exciting non-food plans this week so I won't be doing a lot of blog posts.  But I've got some good things coming up:

I have been attempting to grow my own sprouts.  These are Mung beans:


In my quest to find a way to eat oatmeal other than cookies, I tried a baked oatmeal:


Stay tuned!